You Are Not a Gadget (but are we?)

You Are Not a Gadget is the title of a new book. Its subtitle is actually “A Manifesto” rather than “but are we?” The author is Jaron Lanier, described in the NY Times review of the book as “artist and computer scientist.”

Lanier sensibly notes that the “wisdom of crowds” is a tool that should be used selectively, not glorified for its own sake. Of Wikipedia he writes that… the site’s ethos ratifies the notion that the individual voice — even the voice of an expert — is eminently dispensable…

Lanier is most eloquent on how intellectual property is threatened by the economics of free Internet content, crowd dynamics and the popularity of aggregator sites.

Some of his descriptions of social media remind me of my own account of Twitter as clothes without an emperor. So his must be an individual voice worth heeding.

I found the review via Techmeme, where stories are selected “via computer algorithm extended with direct human input.” A Google search for “Jaron Lanier” currently shows the Wikipedia entry first, ahead of his own web page. Update: it was via Wikipedia that I found his Wired article, One-Half of a Manifesto.

Waiter, there’s a distortion in my headline

The New York Times isn’t just mainstream media on paper these days. It’s also mainstream media online, with a side order of social media. Its site includes a number of blogs, one of which recently included a post entitled 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1).

There’s been a lot of discussion about the post. There are over a thousand comments at NYTimes.com. There’s also lively discussion at reddit, at reddit (which seems over-tolerant of duplicate submissions), and at Waiter Rant (in a post that delivers the promised rant), and, I’m sure at many other sites.

Many of the comments are critical of the list of 50 things (50 more will follow in Part 2) that restaurant staffers should never do. But I’m fairly sure that Bruce Buschel, the author of the post, wrote no such list. I think that he wrote the post itself, including the first sentence: “Herewith is a modest list of dos and don’ts for servers at the seafood restaurant I am building.”

So “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1)” shouldn’t be considered a blog post title, since it wasn’t written by the blogger. It should be considered a headline, probably written by a copy editor. The headline misrepresents the post in at least three ways.

First, and worst, the headline makes it sound as though the list applies to all restaurants, while the post makes it clear that it is about a particular restaurant. Second, the headline refers to restaurant staffers, while the post is about front of the house staff. Third, the headline refers to things that should never be done, while the post lists dos as well as don’ts.

I’ve emailed BB to check my hypothesis that he didn’t write the headline. If he replies, I’ll update this post. Update: reply received, hypothesis confirmed. I like the sound of his restaurant, by the way. I don’t like the way a misleading headline can be put on a thoughtful piece of writing, even if said piece of writing is controversial – especially if it’s controversial.

Traffic From the NY Times

I noticed that a got a trickle of traffic from a URI @nytimes.com. It turns out that I provide one of their “Headlines around the web” for Massachusetts.

Perhaps I should change the post title to “the headline heard around the web.” Or perhaps I should click on the banner ad, since this blog is certainly not a profitable business.

Dramatic Vista: Show’s Not Over Yet

Randall Stross, in Sunday’s New York Times, described the story of Windows Vista as “a tragedy in three acts.” The voices of the chorus reveal that all is not well in Vistaville. For example:

Jon… upgrades two XP machines to Vista. Then he discovers that his printer, regular scanner and film scanner lack Vista drivers. He has to stick with XP on one machine just so he can continue to use the peripherals.

Did Jon simply have bad luck? Apparently not. When another person, Steven, hears about Jon’s woes, he says drivers are missing in every category.

Then Randall unmasks the chorus members.

Jon A. Shirley, a Microsoft board member and former president and chief operating officer… Steven Sinofsky, the company’s senior vice president responsible for Windows.

You can probably tell that I like Randall’s dramatic framing of the Vista story. That’s why I extended it to refer to the chorus, and that’s why I’m going to take it yet further, and refer to five-act structure. I’ll leave you to read about the fourth act, falling action if you want.

Let’s think about the fifth and final act, dénouement. Wikipedia tells us that “tragedy ends with a catastrophe in which the protagonist is worse off than at the beginning of the narrative.” Again, I’ll provide an exercise for you dear reader: provide a

I note that tragedy is not the only type of five-act drama: “comedy ends with a dénouement (a conclusion) in which the protagonist is better off than at the story’s outset.” I wonder what conclusion to the drama of Vista could leave Microsoft better off? Maybe it can sell Windows! But who would buy it? That would surely require a deus ex machina.

redditpython.pngI’ve been rather slow to post this: two days is a long time in blogging. I was far quicker to post it to reddit, where it has done rather well. Yes, this is a rather gratuitous last paragraph, but I just wanted to include the cute reddit alien and yet another picture of a snake.

NY Times and Getting the Web

Yesterday’s New York Times carried an article on The Best Kind of Traffic for Web Sites. Here’s the bottom line.

That honor goes to the people who arrive at a site by typing its Web address directly into their browsers or clicking on a bookmark. Such visitors, who tend to be repeat customers, linger the longest, spend the most money, and are the most likely to “convert” to buyers, doing so on 3.3 percent of their visits. On average, their visits are worth $5.69 apiece.

So some of these best web customers are people too dumb to bookmark? Apparently so, according to Engine Ready. I’ve linked to the firm’s site, since the NY Times can’t be bothered to.

Engine Ready was founded in 1998 as a Search Engine Optimization firm, and has had a blog since… 2008? So I have to refer you to the post entitled Why are there still boundaries between Web 2.0 and Web 1.0?